Uniting town and water

(Top) Above-ground storm drains in this conceptual sketch provide an aesthetic touch to pedestrian walkways, and a link between residents and the natural environment. (Above) A charrette illustration shows over a dozen new pathways flowing south through downtown Winslow toward Eagle Harbor. - Photos courtesy of Winslow Tomorrow
(Top) Above-ground storm drains in this conceptual sketch provide an aesthetic touch to pedestrian walkways, and a link between residents and the natural environment. (Above) A charrette illustration shows over a dozen new pathways flowing south through downtown Winslow toward Eagle Harbor.
— image credit: Photos courtesy of Winslow Tomorrow

Is downtown Winslow ‘too far’ from picturesque Eagle Harbor?

For much of Winslow’s history, the waterfront was more workshed than front yard.

Shipbuilders laid an early claim to the shore, setting up shop with a continuous strip of masts, dry docks, pilings, lumber stacks and rail tracks between Madison and Ferncliff avenues.

When islanders shopped, played, worshipped, ate and slept, they steered clear of the Winslow waterfront. Stores and homes grew up along Winslow Way, facing uphill and beyond earshot of the tumult below.

It wasn’t until after World War II that the shipbuilders ebbed from Winslow’s shore, making way for a U.S. Navy housing project and then Waterfront Park in the mid-1970s.

But downtown never quite joined hands with the waterfront, say participants of a recent design charrette sponsored by the city for Winslow Tomorrow.

Their two-day brainstorm sprouted many designs that link the commercial uplands to the shoreline.

“We’re seeing that there are phenomenal opportunities to connect downtown to the harbor both visually and physically,” said landscape architect and charrette participant Jonathan Morley. “In downtown Winslow, it’s easy to forget that it’s part of an island. Only if you look really hard do you see the water. We want to turn the face of Winslow around a bit and embrace that waterfront.”

Morley and other participants set forth a guiding principle for future downtown development that “brings the harbor to the town and the town to the harbor” through multiple “pathways, gardens and landscaped drainages flowing south toward the water.”

It’s a principle many other nearby port towns are taking to heart.

Bremerton is adding condominiums to a new hotel, conference center and restaurant franchises on shores long smudged with the gray hues of parking lots and steel ships. An underground tunnel will bring more cars to the water’s edge while a planned boardwalk will take pedestrians over the waves.

Olympia has recently added retail, dining and recreational boating facilities to waterfront property formerly dominated by warehouses and the toxic leftovers of a wood treatment plant.

While most charrette participants don’t forsee much new commercial development on Winslow’s waterfront, they do envision many new trails and streets cutting southward through Winslow Way’s stores and eateries.

One charrette illustration featured a birds-eye view of paths streaming in from the downtown’s northern reaches.

Bisecting Winslow Way at a dozen points, the paths then flow out toward the ferry terminal, Waterfront Park, marinas and Winslow Ravine’s salty mouth.

Gravity and water have always dictated this north to south connection through Winslow, and residents should follow suit, said landscape architect Jay Rood.

“We live on this amazing glacial ridge that naturally drains into the harbor,” he said. “But right now that’s disguised. There’s an interruption in both natural and cultural flows toward the harbor.”

Rood believes new water channels and pathways running south from Winslow Way can reconnect residents to the island’s strong historical and ecological relationship with water.

“There’s real power in that relationship,” he said. “It’s not always measurable, but I think that when you have a better sense of where you are there are more opportunities to make connections to the place and the people.”

Rood and Morley visualize open waterways zigzagging through downtown alongside pedestrian passages.

“Right now, that water exists but as soon as it hits downtown it goes down stormwater drains and is forgotten about,” Morley said. “We want to take that natural element and draw attention to it.”

Visible canals of water tricking by sidewalk cafes and boutiques would serve as a constant reminder of the impact residents have on the island’s waterways, he added.

The south-flowing water could make pit stops in small ponds and grass-covered swales to help clean the oil and grit picked up along its urban travels.

“It’s an aesthetic and eco-friendly system that is not at all radical,” Morley said. “It’s just common sense.”

While witnessing the southern flow of water, Rood also envisions residents enjoying an unbroken visual connection to the harbor as they shop, dine and socialize.

One of his illustrations depicts a small park near Bjune Drive with an open southern view that connects a downtown visitor’s eye to the harbor.

“This can orient you to the water even when you’re up there and can remind you where you are,” Rood said. “This island is truly an amazing place.

“We want to celebrate that and build on the richness that’s already there.”

* * * * *

This is the fourth article in a five-part series exploring the results of the Winslow Tomorrow design charrette, and how the principles that emerged from the event may inform downtown planning.

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